With the WEC season right around a corner, RaceDepartment are taking time to assess the changes within the WEC field for 2016. First up, the prototypes: LMP1 For decades LMP1 has been the bread and butter of endurance racing, really the only category to transcend the veil from racing niche to mainstream in motorsport headline grabbers, and this year is set up to be an absolute belter. Rule wise thing's aren't too dissimilar to last year, however there have been steps taken in the name of reducing lap times, specifically at Le Mans, as well promoting yet more efficiency. A reduction in fuel flow and total fuel energy will be disheartening to some, whilst the restriction of having only three different bodywork iterations permitted across the year might provide a headache if one of the team's gets it wrong. Porsche After wrapping up last year's championship with a race spare, taking their first title since rejoining prototype endurance racing in 2014 in the process, the 2015 pace setters go into the new season with a very positive outlook. An unchanged lineup of Webber, Hartley and Bernhard in the #1 alongside Dumas, Jani and Lieb in the #2, certainly reflects this optimism so expect both entries to be at the top of their game. But whilst the faces are just the same, the car is most definitely different. Whilst to the casual eye the 2016 Porsche could pass an almost exact clone of the 2015 machine, Porsche has worked hard during the winter to refine almost every aspect of the 919 Hybrid. With well in excess of 1000bhp on the cards, as all three LMP1 heavyweights can also boast this year thankfully, and tighter, more agile 919 is expected to set the pace in qualifying, and perhaps in race trim as well, for yet another season. Audi The story over at VW's other horse in the race for the LMP1 title however is ever so slightly different. Whilst Audi's driver lineup once again remains intact, the new radical looking Audi R18 is really a sit to behold, dependent on whether you can stomach looking at the front end for too long. The technology behind the car is has also evolved. Audi this year steps up to a 6MJ system from last year's 4MJ package (Porsche on the other hand are packing 8MJ), whilst the radical aero package change has also necessitated a complete rework of the suspension setup. Time will tell if the new car can help close the gap to Porsche, but if one thing's for certain in endurance racing you can never rule Audi out. Toyota The last of the 'big' hitters, if we conveniently ignore their 2015 horror show, are Toyota. Gone is the 2015 V8 powered chassis and in it's place now stands a V6, 8MJ hybrid powered Toyota TS050, complete with an new red, white and black livery just in case we were not already having a hard enough time distinguishing between Porsche and Audi on track. Driver wise, with Alex Wurz now fully focused on writing strongly worded letters to Bernie Ecclestone, Kamui Kobayashi finds himself in his first truly competitive seat since the 2012 Formula One season and I for one cannot wait to see how he performs after he so nearly filled in for Nakajima at Le Mans last year. With a very strong driver lineup and a lot to make up for, expect Toyota to firmly get their elbows out and fight tooth and nail with the Germans. As for the privateers, we can only hope that with both Rebellion Racing and Team ByKolles switching to Dunlop rubber AND an identical AER P60 twin turbo V6 engine, that Rebellion Racing will actually have someone to play with when the action gets underway at Silverstone this weekend. If so! Make sure to look out for Nelson Piquet Jr's LMP1 debut in the Rebellion where he'll be hoping to be slightly more successful than in his Formula E title defense, meanwhile Alexander Imperatori, Dom Kraihamer and Matheo Tuscher will make up the second car's lineup. At ByKolles Simon Trummer, Oliver Webb and James Rossiter will pilot the team's all new chassis for 2016 for Silverstone. LMP2 In LMP2, a very healthy 11 car field makes it somewhat more difficult to read between the lines. The widespread love for Nissan's V8 in the class means, as usual, only aerodynamics, setup, and driver ability stand as the real definers for separating the men from the boys. G-Drive Starting with last season's winners, the #26 G-Drive entry seems a great horse to back at this very early stage of the year. Retaining the services of silver ranked Roman Rusinov, the very competent Russian is joined at the squad by Nathanael Berthon who has been wetting his appetite for racing in GP2, the ELMS and more recently Formula E, as well as by traditional Audi factory driver Rene Rast. However, with technically support running the team switching from OAK Racing to JOTA for 2016, we'll have to wait until the weekend to get a good grasp of what G-Drive are capable of, as well as whether they can back up their tremendous 2015 form. SMP Racing One of G-Drive's biggest rivals will certainly be the SMP entry of Nicolas Minassian, David Markozov and Maurizio Mediani, With an ex-Peugeot factory at their disposal along with very competent LMP2 caliber drivers, the team will be looking to retake the title they won in 2014. Meanwhile, their second car of WEC returnee Vitaly Petrov, alongside Viktor Saytar and Kirill Ladygin could very well also be in the mix. Extreme Speed Motorsport After a troublesome 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans and a generally lackluster 2015 WEC campaign, Extreme Speed Motorsport have come back fighting with a vengeance in preparation for 2016. Victories in both the the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, a first since 1998, have given the team momentum coming into Silverstone. However, what may go against them is the switch to Nissan power, as the Honda engines that powered them to victory in Daytona and Sebring are non-compliant with the WEC's regulations, but with a promising driver lineup headlined by another G-Drive outcast in the form of Pipo Derani, 2016 could be the year ESM make's it big across the pond. Finally, shout outs also go the resurgent Manor squad born from the mass exodus of the Manor F1 team at the end of last season, the RGR Sport entry which boasts Bruno Senna, ex G-Drive driver Ricardo Gonzales, and Filipe Albuquerque for a driver lineup, and also to the #42 Strakka Racing entry for being the only open topped car competing in the WEC this season. GTE Pro In GTE Pro there were certainly be a changing of the old guard. Last year's world champions, admittedly mainly courtesy of Richard Lietz, Porsche are no more... at least in an official guise. Instead, they live on under the Dempsey-Proton name in what is a slightly diminished field. However, whilst there won't be a black a white Porsche racing in GTE Pro, we do have a brand spanking new Aston Martin to feast our eyes on, alongside the much anticipated return of the Ford GT to international endurance racing. But where is everyone stacking up so far? Dempsey-Proton Whilst both Team Manthey and the new Bridget Jones heartthrob are both no more in the WEC, at least for 2016, Porsche will field a single car in the GTE Pro class. Updated to 2016 specifications, the new 911 RSR has performed well so far this year, most notably picking up third at the 12 Hours of Sebring back in March. At the wheel then Earl Bamber and Michael Christensen, the latter of whom will join 2015 champion Richard Lietz in the car for the full season, so driver wise Porsche are looking very solid. What remains to be seen is whether the traditional rear engine setup of the 911, which has restricted Porsche rear diffuser development going into Silverstone will have an impact on the car's performance. But if 2015 was anything to go by, expect big things from Patrick Dempsey's pet project. AF Corse Ferrari arrive at Silverstone also with a brand new car, although you'd be hard pressed to notice any major aesthetic changes. The team who pushed Porsche hard last season will certainly enter the year as one of the favourites across the entire series, especially the #51 car with now endurance racing veteran Gianmaria Bruni being joined by once fabled GP2 protege James Calado. In the sister entry, Ferrari have teamed up Davide Rigon with another Briton, this time in the guise of Sam Bird who reaps the rewards of a superb 2015 campaign in LMP2 category with a Ferrari factory drive. In short, with little radical change at AF Corse, if the car proves reliable then the competition between the #51 and #71 could get a little feisty. Aston Martin Racing Out with the old and in with the new. Gone is the old Vantage of 2015, along with the awkward distinction between Aston Martin Racing and Aston Martin Racing V8 entries thankfully, as Aston Martin brings completely re-skinned and revised competitor to the WEC. After a solid, if yet disappointing, 2015 campaign which yielded just a single victory at Spa Francorchamps before tire development hampered any real progress, the British outfit will be hoping that an improved aero package will push Aston Martin back to the front of the GT field. Driver wise, there are no new names for us fans to remember, however the all Danish entry from last season is no more as Darren Turner joins Nicki Thimm and Marco Sorenson in the #95. Meanwhile, Fernando Rees, Johnny Adams and Richie Stanaway complete the line up for the sister #97 entry. Ford Now here's the one we're all really excited about. On the year that will mark the 50th anniversary of their historic 1966 Le Mans victory, Ford once again enters the endurance racing frame with a, literally, completely brand spanking new car. Adorned in the red, white and blue of it's ancestral home, the new Ford GT is certainly a stunner to look at, and with driver's such as Andy Priaulx, Stefan Muecke and Olivier Pla at their disposal, they definitely have the talent to succeed. But as always in motorsport, their ultimate success will depend on were the GT stacks up against it's European counterparts. A 39th placed finish at Daytona in January was definitely not what the Ford gang was hoping for, but a 5th placed class finish at Sebring does give the team some hope. All in all, in all likelihood it will take Ford a few meetings to get really tuned in, and with both Silverstone and Spa acting mainly as prequels to their attempt to replicate their victory in 1966 at Le Mans come June. GTE Am With just six car's to it's name GTE Am is the loneliest category in this year's WEC. Last year's champions SMP Racing have moved onto to bigger and better things leaving the rest to squabble amongst themselves for the bragging rights. Aston Martin Of those still hanging around, one team to look out for #98 Aston Martin racing entry of Paul Dalla, Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda. Whilst they are perhaps best now to the wider racing world for throwing away an almost certain Le Mans class victory last year, the #98 powered its way to three victories last season, matched only by SMP Racing who inherited the victory at Le Mans. With the trio's combined pace undeniable, all remains to be seen as to whether they can overcome last year's misdemeanor and assert their dominance on the category. All may well yet hinge on their decision to become the sole Dunlop runner in the category, but if they can harness their early season form from last year then anything is possible. AF Corse As the runner up last year the GTE Am AF Corse entry stands as perhaps the early season favourite in the category. With last year's GTE Pro car at their disposal, ensuring that Ferrari does indeed remain in GTE Am, combined with Francois Perrodo, Manu Collard and Rui Aguas, the Italians will be hoping to go one better in 2016. Finally, a brief roundup of the other entries see's Labre Competition racing for the Americans in GTE Am, and with the very rapid Paulo Ruberti at their disposal the Corvette could be turning a few heads come Sunday. In addition, Porsche have three teams competing in the category in the form of the KCMG, Proton run #78 entry, the #86 Gulf Racing car of Michael Wainwright, Ben Barker, and 'Jack of all trades' Adam Carroll, and finally the #88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing entry which returns for a third season.